“You exist inside a secret world of beauty. You were born full of color, like a moving world of art … You are a Belle.”
As soon as I saw this cover I knew I wanted to read this book - I mean, it’s absolutely stunning. I can happily say that the lush and vivid writing perfectly fits with this stunning cover. The Belles follows Camellia Beauregard, a Belle with the coveted ability to control and craft beauty, and in the world of Orléans Belles are revered. But Camellia uncovers darker secrets as she’s integrated into court life and she must discover the extent of her own powers, and what she’s willing to risk to get what she wants.
Things I Liked
I really enjoyed the worldbuilding of the world of Orléans. I LOVED the mythology we get in the beginning of the story about the God of the Sky, the Goddess of Beauty, and the origins of the Belles. I liked learning about the limitations of the Belle’s abilities and their roles in society. I hope we explore more of the Islands of Orléans in the future, but I thought the vivid writing perfectly captured the tone of the story and added an extravagant atmosphere that really worked.
I really liked how the story explored the dark side of glamour. We see parents used their children as living dolls, changing and manipulating them to gain favor and status. The beauty appointments are painful and costly - to both the recipient and the Belle performing the appointment. The Belle’s recovery grossed me out! I liked seeing how the Belle become commodities, not people. They are a thing to be used. It really showcased that life as a Belle isn’t all it seems.
I liked most of the characters in the story. I liked that Camellia was ambitious, though I don’t think she was the most clever in her choices. She wanted to be the favorite, not only for the status and honoring her mother, but to genuinely bring joy and happiness to the Orléanian people. I thought Rémy was a great character, and I liked seeing his relationship with Camellia slowly develop - and he was such a softy with his sister that it was incredibly endearing. Edel was a bit of a troublemaker, but a great friend and sister to Camellia. I actually really liked the close bond that connected all the Belles.
Things I Didn’t Like
It felt like I never really had a grasp on what arcana actually was, or at least it took me a long time to get it. I know it is the source of the Belle’s ability and there are 3 types: manner, aura, and age. Arcana is NOT magic, but a protein in their blood. But I felt like the term was used a lot in the beginning of the story with little explanation. I l know the Belle’s abilities are supposed to be this big secret, but I was a little confused about their powers. It was the one part of the worldbuilding I found lacking.
There was this small fight scene between Camellia and Amber, another Belle, in the beginning of the story and Amber ends up falling. They made way too big a deal out of this minute, non-existent fall, that was entirely Amber’s fault, and I couldn’t take it seriously. This isn’t even something that brought the story down, I just thought they talked about it too much and made it seem way more serious than it was. (I also wasn’t the biggest fan of Amber, for supposedly being Camellia’s closest friend I didn’t feel their relationship at all).
Princess Sophia got a little crazed villain for me. She is just so impulsive and bratty, I don’t really see it as threatening, even though she is a formidable character. I mainly just wanted her to go away.
For me the first half of the story was stronger than the second half, and that made the reading experience a little uneven. While I really enjoyed the worldbuilding and most of the characters, I wasn’t as invested as I wanted to be. The Belles is still an enjoyable and unique fantasy read that creates a lush and vibrant world and exposes the dark side of glamour.
Trigger warning for attempted sexual assault
Side note: there is a Bury Your Gays death (of a wlw character). This is not the only LGBT character mentioned in the story, Princess Sophia is mentioned as previously having a female lover, who is also dead.
I received a copy of the book from Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.